An Inconvenient Truth

I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” last night. Go see it. It’s well done, and it’s not entirely upsetting. More importantly, bring someone who wasn’t already planning on seeing it.    (KL2)

My biggest takeaway from the movie: I had previously thought that there was scientific disagreement over whether or not global warming was real. Al Gore shows that this is not the case. They took a 10 percent sample of articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (almost 1,000 articles), and every single one of them acknowledged global warming as real phenomenon. They then took a similar sampling of articles in the popular media, and over 50 percent of them suggested that there were some scientific detractors. Propaganda stinks, but it sure is effective. (For more on this, check out Michael Shermer‘s Skeptic column in the June 2006 issue of Scientific American, spotted by the movie’s blog.)    (KL3)

This further reinforces my view on the most important challenges we need to address en route to solving the world’s biggest problems: transparency and dialog.    (KL4)

I’m a big believer in markets, but markets rely on “perfect information” to work correctly. When we live in a world that is so easily swayed by propaganda that the popular press reports that global warming is scientifically controversial and the majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, then we don’t have perfect information. I have no gripe with people whose beliefs are different from mine. I have a problem who base their opinions on misinformation.    (KL5)

We need more transparency in society, and we need tools that give us that transparency. For example, when I purchase food from the supermarket, I’d like to know the comparative “carbon costs” of those different items. As my friend Stephanie Schaaf has often pointed out, when you buy locally grown produce, even if it’s nonorganic, you’re helping the environment, because less energy is consumed in transporting the food. Everyone needs to know these things, and then they can decide for themselves whether or not to do anything about it.    (KL6)

One of the ways to create a marketplace of better information is by increasing and diversifying dialog. Talk is not cheap. We need more conversations with the people who already surround us, and we need more conversations with those who are different from us.    (KL7)

Several of the friends I was with bemoaned the fact that those of us watching the movie were the wrong target audience. I disagree. I don’t think the environmental community has maximized its group potential, and movies like this can help catalyze further progress.    (KL8)

Joel Makower at Worldchanging recently wrote about how Houston ranked last in last year’s SustainLane rankings for sustainable cities. The problem? Makower writes:    (KL9)

Houston’s problem, it seems, had as much to do with its lack of self-knowledge and coordination of efforts as with its actual performance. And that put it in good company — not just with other cities, but with thousands of companies that have good, green stories to tell, if only they knew about them. Sometimes, it’s the simple matter of finding the stories — along with good storytellers — that can begin a positive spiral of inspiration and innovation — leading, of course, to even more good stories.    (KLA)

Put another way: If only Houston knew what Houston knew. Now, increasingly, it does.    (KLB)

More thoughts:    (KLC)

  • Gore tells a moving story about how his father was a tobacco farmer (in addition to being a senator). His father had seen the evidence that tobacco was linked to cancer, but continued to grow it. What finally made him stop? When Gore’s sister — a smoker — died of lung cancer.    (KLD)
  • I enjoyed the presentation and the side bits, but I would have liked to have seen much more of the latter.    (KLE)
  • The movie ends on a note of hope. Gore says that we have what we need to solve the problem. He also says that we’ve solved complex world-wide problems before, and cites the hole in the ozone layer as one of them. I’d like to see other examples of this. I’m also a bit concerned about managing expectations. Wicked Problems are wicked because solutions generate more problems. The environmental problems we face today aren’t just caused by global warming, but also by environmental instability. Reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is another form of instability, and there will be consequences.    (KLF)
  • I was disappointed that things like buying local foods and Carbon Credits weren’t mentioned. For more on Carbon Credits, see Jamais Cascio‘s entry at Worldchanging and also Brad Templeton‘s thoughts (via Ping).    (KLG)
  • After the movie, I went to the web site’s Carbon Calculator to figure out my role in this crisis. It was disheartening, to say the least. My problem? I drive 20,000 miles a year. I’ve improved a bit since moving to San Francisco, as I take public transporatation more often, and I carpool when I can. I also drive a Honda Civic with great mileage. Nevertheless, I’ve got to figure out more ways to drive less.    (KLH)

Manifesto Summit; More Responses

In the two weeks since I last responded to feedback about my manifesto, there have been several other interesting comments. Before I respond to those, I want to make a couple of announcements. First, this Thursday (April 29), I’m presenting the manifesto at SRI‘s Artificial Intelligence Center at 4pm in Menlo Park, California. The talk is free and open to the public.    (1E2)

Second, Blue Oxen Associates is once again helping design this June’s Planetwork Conference in San Francisco. In addition to the usual lineup of great speakers, including TrueMajority‘s Ben Cohen (the “Ben” in Ben & Jerry’s), there will be a parallel interactive component. The format will be self-organizing, in some ways resembling Open Space, and is being designed by Tomorrow Makers (Gail Taylor and company) and Blue Oxen Associates. The purpose of the interactive component is to give people some basic infrastructure to discuss and work on topics of interest and also to enable different groups to connect and intertwingle.    (1E3)

I want to build on some of the interest that the manifesto has generated, and the Planetwork Conference offers a perfect venue to do so. I’d like to propose a summit at this June’s conference for everyone interested in pursuing greater interoperability between collaborative tools. If you’d like to attend, drop me an email, register for the conference at the web site, and rank the topic. I’ll followup later with more details.    (1E4)

On to the comments.    (1E5)

Empowering the Programmer    (1E6)

Several people forwarded Bill De Hora’s response to my manifesto. Bill quoted Chris Ferris:    (1E7)

“Interoperability is an unnatural act for a vendor. If they (the customer) want/need interoperability, they need to demand it. They simply cannot assume that the vendors will deliver interoperable solutions out of some altruistic motivation. The vendors are primarily motivated by profit, not good will.”    (1E8)

then added:    (1E9)

There’s a class of articles that tend to look to assign blame to programmers for what’s wrong with software…. I find them ferociously, willfully, ignorant on how software actually is conceived, designed, marketed, built and sold. Blaming programmers is intellectually slothful. We are, and let’s be clear about this, decades past the time the blame could be laid squarely at the programmers feet.    (1EA)

A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools veered close to that, while never quite getting there – exhorting developers, with only token gesture as to how decisions about software are made. Software is a complete commercial ecosystem that extends far beyond hacking code. Ironically like its observation of the semantic web, this manifesto is unlikely to take hold because it does not address the real issue, which is the marketplace and not technique. This failure in analysis is all the more frustrating as I agree with the essential sentiment expressed (we need better tools, now). Plus the writing is wonderful.    (1EB)

My essay isn’t about blame, it’s about empowerment. Bill is right in that I didn’t thoroughly discuss the role of the marketplace. That comes next. The first step, though, is awareness. I’ve learned a lot from Doug Engelbart over the past four years, but the two lessons that stand out most in my mind are: 1. Making the world a better place is a reasonable career goal; and 2. The first step towards achieving this is to think bigger. Very few people — least of all, programmers — understand or want to understand collaboration well. Start with this problem first, then we can talk about the marketplace.    (1EC)

Okay, so the cat’s out of the bag. I’m a closeted idealist. But the reason my idealist side is in the closet is that I’m also a realist. Less (or at least, as much as necessary) talking, more walking. I founded Blue Oxen Associates to help achieve this goal, and so in some ways, our continued existence and progress will be a measure of whether or not this vision can be achieved.    (1ED)

So, how do we deal with the vagaries of the marketplace when it comes to interoperability, especially in light of Chris’s comments? Chris provides the solution. The solution has to start from the bottom-up — the users.    (1EE)

The Identity Commons model (which fits right into the overall framework I describe) is a good example of this approach. These folks want to take on Microsoft Passport and Liberty Alliance. The goal is to provide an alternative digital identity infrastructure where individuals retain control over their information. Realistically, Identity Commons will not be successful by marching into the offices of various vendors with a technical spec in hand and pleading for it to be implemented. Their approach is to target a market sector that isn’t currently being addressed — civil society. Once users there recognize the utility and desirability of the infrastructure, they’ll demand it elsewhere.    (1EF)

Beyond Collaborative Tools    (1EG)

A few people observed that the principles espoused in the manifesto applied to areas beyond collaborative tools. Jamais Cascio said:    (1EH)

Replace “tools” with “movements” (and “tool builders” with “activists”) and Kim’s argument clearly applies to not just to those who are making the technology, but also to those who are using the technology to build a better world.    (1EI)

In his OLDaily newsletter, Stephen Downes suggested that the principles “are as applicable to e-learning software as collaboration tools.”    (1EJ)

There’s a good reason for this. The steps I described apply to almost any collaborative scenario, be it activism or learning. I was especially happy to see Jamais’s comments, because that is ultimately what this is all about.    (1EK)

Semantic Web Evangelists    (1EL)

A few people who read early drafts thought that some Semantic Web folks might take offense at some of the things I said. For the most part, folks have been very positive. W3C’s Dan Connolly, however, expressed some frustration on the #rdfig IRC channel about my claim that Semantic Web evangelists are more machine- than human-centric in their pitches.    (1EM)

Argh! Which evangelists? I’m certainly spending 99.9% of my time working on the balance between effort and reward for people.    (1EN)

Tim Berners Lee for one. Tim and coauthors James Hendler and Ora Lassila opened their May 2001 piece in Scientific American on the Semantic Web with a science fiction scenario where automated agents collaborated with each other to schedule a doctor’s appointment. That scenario echoed tales of Artificial Intelligence’s past.    (1EO)

Now I realize I just said that we need to think bigger, that the audience for this article was broad, and that the authors wanted to open with something sexy. I also don’t mean to pass say that Tim or James or Ora are not people-centric in their philosophy or work. I’m saying that these scenarios are not actually people-centric, even though they might seem that way on the surface, for reasons cited in the manifesto. That’s a problem, because a lot of people missed the point. This is less the case today than it was three years ago, but I worry that the damage has already been done, and the end result was that some of the outstanding work that has happened over the past three years (work to which I refer in the manifesto) hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves.    (1EP)

Italian Translation    (1EQ)

Luigi Bertuzzi is currently working on an Italian translation of the manifesto. You can read the email he sent to me and follow his work.    (1ER)